It’s almost your birthday, and you don’t want it to be a big deal. It seems a little childish now that you and your friends’ preferred bedtime is in the PMs, rather than the AMs. Above all, you don’t want to be one of those annoying people who has a “birthday month.” Also, you’re still recovering from that dancing-on-the-bar mishap from a previous celebration. You might even go so far as to tell people not to bother planning anything.
But as the day approaches, you realize this is all wrong. There’s a difference between a big deal, and no deal at all. Stay calm, there’s still time. You can start dropping casual ‘hints’ to your friends or take matters into your own hands - starting with this guide. Below are places that are nice, but not too fancy. They’re made for groups, and don’t require too much planning (or, in some cases, any). Just try to avoid the urge to dance on anymore bars.
Between the three stops, costume change, and fake murder mystery, last year’s birthday party was just too much. This year, make things simple and spend the day at Belga. It’s always just the right amount of busy and you can usually get a few tables together inside or outside. The Happy Hour deals are worth your while and it’s an easy place to stay for a few hours and snack while friends stop by for a beer or two. Order some oysters and fries, and be glad that your friends aren’t quietly mutinying against you this time around.
There’s a point in your life where having servers sing you “Happy Birthday” and blind you with sparklers in a piece of cake seems more like a fire hazard than a celebration. When that time comes, avoid the pyrotechnics and make a reservation at Bar Agricole in SoMa. This place is nice, but still relaxed, and serves an interesting mix of charcuterie, pastas, and wine. Plus, there’s a backyard patio that’s great for hanging out with friends and splitting a smoke-free dessert.
When you want to start the low-key celebration before noon, tell your friends to meet you at Don Pisto’s. Despite not having a liquor license and making all of their drinks with wine, the margaritas and sangria are mysteriously strong and delicious, and the tacos here are some of our favorites. The North Beach location gets packed on the weekends, but it’s a great place to kick off what’s sure to be a long day and they take reservations for six or more.
Sessions might not be on your radar unless you live or work in the Presidio, but it should be. The food is good, they have a strong, California-heavy beer and wine list, and it’s pretty easy to get a reservation. Sessions is a great place to start a night out in the Marina, or come for brunch if you want to get your birthday rolling before noon.
There are a ton of places in Cow Hollow where you can blow out the candles, but Gamine is a neighborhood spot that you can basically take over with your friends. This small French restaurant has a private room you can book, or just push a few tables together in the dining room and make yourself at home. The staff is super nice, you can always get in without fail, and the petite filet, steak tartare, and mussels are all very worthy of being your birthday dinner.
Fancy sushi restaurants are generally too expensive for an NBD birthday dinner. What you need is somewhere a little more casual where you can still eat great Japanese food and drink sake without worrying about the check. Izakaya Kou near The Fillmore serves a mix of sushi, tempura, and yakitori, all of which is under $20. Their private side rooms are perfect for groups and you get to sit on pillows on the floor, which is especially nice if this is already your fourth stop of the day.
When you told all of your friends that you didn’t want any gifts this year, there was a little part of you that lied. While nothing can replace unwrapping a birthday present, getting the whole roasted chicken in brioche at Nomica is pretty close. The entire dish is wheeled to your table inside a dutch oven before the server cuts the top off of the bread to reveal the chicken inside. It’s surprisingly easy to get a reservation at this Japanese/French spot in the Castro, but make sure to call the chicken order in the day before.
Part Lao and Thai restaurant, part tiki bar, Hawker Fare in the Mission is a great birthday option - whether you want to camp out at the bar with your roommates or plan to invite your entire ultimate frisbee team and eat in the dining room. Everything on the menu is designed to be shared, from the brussels sprouts and crispy rice ball salad to the satay short ribs, and you can quickly transition to a round or two of after-dinner drinks without changing venues.
It’s your birthday, but due to unforeseen circumstances involving elaborate preparations for Mr. Marina 2019, you didn’t plan anything. Palm House will accept you and your crew to celebrate regardless. This indoor/outdoor spot on Union has solid appetizers and bar food, along with plenty of drinks to choose from. Join forces with another birthday group before you leave, and head to one of the nearby bars on Chestnut for stop number two.
It’s been a long week at work and now your birthday Happy Hour has evolved into the kickoff of an all-office bar crawl. Start the night at Ace Wasabi in the Marina, where you can still celebrate with some good food while your co-workers take advantage of their Happy Hour. The sushi and small plates are way better than you’d expect from a place that does Happy Hour bingo each day. Plus, they do reservations for groups of five or more.
You’re a week out from your birthday and while your plan was to just binge-watch The West Wing with an ice cream cake, you now regret not planning something. Two ideas for you: One, wait a few minutes and see if the feeling passes. Two, get everyone together for pizza, risotto, and cocktails at Beretta. You can usually still get a reservation at this Mission classic just a few days ahead of time and if you have a bigger group, they do a very-well priced prix fixe for $25-$45 per person. There’s a strong chance you’ll see someone at the bar that you matched with on Bumble, but just make them buy you a birthday shot and call it even.
Southern Pacific is a strong jumping off point for a day or night in the Mission, and has enough bar food and drink options to keep everyone happy while toasting to your entry into the world. The place is huge, the tables are long, and the beers are great. They even have games to play once your friends run out of appropriate stories from your last few birthdays to tell your coworkers.
Leo’s Oyster Bar is nice without feeling stuffy and there’s enough of a buzz inside where you and friends won’t have to worry about being too loud. This place is covered in plants and looks great in photos, they make great cocktails, and there’s a ton of raw and cooked seafood to choose from. If you don’t fill up on oysters, the lobster roll is a good call back to the hot dogs you ate at your fourth birthday party - minus the pointy cardboard hats.